Beyond being an arbiter of taste, Vivavi is something of an educator and community builder. More than 30 design companies are featured on the company's website--some obscure, some more well known. Customers browsing Vivavi are exposed to new companies, each with its own slant on how to design with the environment in mind. In addition, the website contains directories for green-focused architects, contractors, and interior designers and has links to ecofriendly apartment complexes around the U.S. and Canada. Unfurnished ecofriendly apartment complexes, to be exact. "Someone looking for a green home will eventually be looking for some furniture to put in it," Dorfman says.
Phil Nail can't count the number of calls he's taken from customers asking if Affordable Internet Services Online, the Web-hosting business he owns with his wife, really runs entirely on solar power. Now he has proof: a real-time Web camera trained on the 120 solar panels that flank his 2,000-square-foot data center in the southern California desert town of Romoland. "Anybody can buy ecocredits," he says, referring to companies that buy alternative energy credits in exchange for the amount of electricity they consume. "We're out to make a difference."
AISO.net, as the company is known, serves 15,000 clients worldwide, many of them attracted to its green values. One customer, IMAX film producer MacGillivray Freeman Films, displays an image of a solar panel at the bottom of its website with the statement, "Site hosted with 100% solar energy." Energy from Affordable Internet's $100,000 worth of solar panels goes into battery banks that keep power steady to the servers and office. Not that the business sucks power inefficiently. Solar tubes on the roof bring in natural light and minimize the need to flip a switch. Foot-thick walls stuffed with envirofriendly insulation keep the place so cool that the AC rarely runs, even when it's 110 degrees outside. Next year, Nail plans to add drought-resistant plants to the roof to cut energy usage even more. All told, Nail figures he saves $3,000 a month in electric bills, but that's not the only benefit. "All types of businesses come to us that want ecofriendly hosting," he says. "This gives us a little niche market."
Shayne McQuade's company, Voltaic Systems, makes backpacks and messenger bags faced with solar panels that can charge things such as cell phones and PDAs. They're made in China. McQuade would like to explain why that is an environmentally progressive approach.
It's precisely because so many things are made in China. By sourcing his bags there, McQuade accrued a little influence. He told his manufacturer that he wanted the bags to be made from recycled PET plastic--soda bottles, essentially. The manufacturer couldn't find a supplier. So McQuade went to Taiwan and found the supplier himself. And here's the thing: Now his manufacturer makes products of recycled PET for lots of clients. Big clients, including Nike (NYSE:NKE).
"By working with these factories, we have a hope of changing the manufacturing systems and making those materials and that fabric available through mainstream channels," says McQuade. "And that's where you change the world. If I'm doing some artisanal project in the U.S., it's not the same."
McQuade dreamed up Voltaic, which is based in New York City, while bumming around Spain. He was looking for a change after a stint as a consultant at McKinsey and later as an entrepreneur during the dot-com boom, and he needed a way to recharge his cell phone. He ultimately devised a bag designed around lightweight, durable solar panels and a small rechargeable battery. Voltaic's products are in sporting goods stores and the Museum of Modern Art store, and McQuade hopes to place them soon in Sam's Club. Next up: bags with enough light-harvesting technology to charge a laptop.
Most people don't think about the environment when they choose a dry cleaner. Actually, most people don't think about dry cleaning very much at all--they go to the joint around the corner, says Jim McManus, CEO of Zoots, a national chain of 80 dry cleaners.
Zoots plans to change that, targeting customers with a pretty compelling argument--the company does not use the standard dry cleaning industry chemical perchloroethylene, or perc, an air pollutant that is either a possible or probable carcinogen, depending on whom you ask. Founded in 1998 with investors including Staples co-founders Tom Stemberg and Todd Krasnow, Zoots is aiming to appeal to an upscale demographic that spends big on dry cleaning. It can only help that state legislatures are increasingly cracking down on the use of perc by dry cleaners. Zoots uses a cleaning fluid that is 100 percent biodegradable. "It made perfect sense to do the right thing," says McManus.
McManus is quick to point out that Zoots is innovative in other ways, as well. Every store, for instance, has a kiosk at which customers can drop off and pick up their cleaning with a credit card, 24-7. Zoots now has 300,000 customers, and revenue is up 26 percent over last year.
Next: The Converts
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